The best trips often turn out to be the unplanned ones. While doing a solo trip to Barot Valley, the idea was to explore Rajgundha Valley and Lohardi as well for it made sense to tick them off since they’re just a stone’s throw away. But Phuladhar or Phularidhar was nowhere in my knowing. It was a pure accident and an impulsive unplanned one day trip.
So while catching the third bus on that tiring day of 14th May, when i was up since 4 am and every part of my body ‘ouched’ so bad, a very kind gentleman named Roshanlal figured how exhausted I was standing in a jam packed Himachal Roadways bus in Ghatasani. ‘Ma’am please sit down”! He spoke to me in a rather strange accent, the ones that the locals use with foreigners. I politely declined his kind gesture and insisted that he kept sitting but he wouldn’t listen and my tired legs eventually gave in to his kindness.
We had probably half an hour before he reached his village and those few minutes were spent talking about his hamlet and the surprises it had to offer. He gave me his number and told me to drop by whenever i planned my next trip.
Fast forward to four days later, after having roamed around Barot and Chota Bhangal region, I caught an early morning bus from Lohardi back to Mandi. Sitting on my seat, I thought of how I could spend another day in the mountains but somewhere i hadn’t been in the last four days. I decided to call Roshanlal but disconnected the call before it rang. I thought I’d give him a surprise and drop by without letting him know. And so i got down at Jhatingri and hiked up 6 kms with a not so light bag, often getting tempted to call him and tell him to pick me up.
But somehow I didn’t want to stop walking/ sweating or getting burnt. There was this ‘hard to describe’ kind of excitement of doing an impromptu trip to an unknown villager’s place. I remembered Roshanlal telling me that his camp was on the topmost point of the mountain and had a 360 degree view of the place around. That was my reward and it kept me going without complaining.
After about an hour’s drive in the HRTC, i got down at the Jhatingri bus stop. I asked this old Auntie at a Dhaaba by the road if the track on the right went up to Phuladhar. She nodded and invited me for breakfast. While having a not so good maggie and a super milky tea, she asked why I traveled alone even when I had a husband and why my nose wasn’t adorned with a nath like other married women. I simply smiled at her and told her that the husband likes his bike rides way too much and I loved my mountains more than anything and that it was okay to do our own things. Auntie was left a tad bit amused but I was used to these questions followed by the much animated reactions 🙂
I unzipped my wallet to check how much money i was left with and hoped I could afford this one extra date with the mountains of Phuladhar. 1400 bucks! I had no idea how much Roshanlal would charge me but I had no plans of heading back home today. And so I started the hike up to Phuladhar, in the ever so confusing weather. The sun was menacingly hot and a mini truck passing by tempted me bad to hitchhike but walking 5 to 6 kms uphill would have gifted me umpteen more surprises than going on a four wheeler. So I constantly did some Oohs and Aahs ( I now know why Maria Sharapova grunts so much while playing). Screaming out the pain helps quite a bit 🙂 Such insightful discoveries on a solo hike are bound to happen! No? 😉
The hike started from the PWD guest room at the base of Jhatingri, a steep track going uphill on its left. The road isn’t tarred and there are quite a few shortcuts in between through the Pine and Deodar trails. But I choose to walk more and longer, for the initial part at least. It was strange how I found myself the only one hiking up to the village with not a soul or a vehicle around. While Barot was just a few km away from Jhatingri, there was a stark difference between the two. Barot was swamped with guest houses home stays and resorts while the hamlets here, enjoyed the solitude and absence of human jam.
I learnt after my trip that Jhatingri was once the summer capital of Barot and was renowned for its palaces of Raja and Rani which are now in ruins. Its situated at 6600ft amsl at Ghoghar Dhar and lies just 5 kms ahead of Ghatasani ( from where I caught the bus for Barot Valley on day 1 of my trip)
The sun only got meaner and the trails through the dense Blue Pines invited me to take some shelter. I sat down, listening to the alien sounds of crickets and toads. A boy came sliding down from the top, and disappeared into the lower trails. I wondered what i’d do in two hours, would probably take him 20 mins! Mountain folks are forever giving you some fitness complex. The mud on the trail was wet and loose yet i decided to take the short cut. While climbing up, the stones started falling off and the soil under my feet lost its ground. I had a huge tree root right in front of me and I caught hold of it like a child would catch hold of his father’s hand. While the nature tried to push me down, another part of it came to my rescue, saving me from some more scars.
I reached a relatively flatter land with green farms around me. A hut or two stood by the farms and there was finally a sign of civilization. I decided to go ask its occupants for water and that’s when I got to know that this hamlet was called Devdhar. I was told that Phuladhar was another km and a half away. The fields were neon green and yellow with Jawaar almost ready for the harvest. A little further ahead, stood a green house with the most beautiful backdrop. It was nestled amidst the lush green farms and Dhauladhars peeped out of the clouds behind. I decided to go across the farm fence just when this not so social fur baby tied under a tiny shed on the farms,barked rambunctiously and dared me not to move ahead. Throwing few Parle Gs at him helped us bonding to some extent. His folks worked in the farms while he like a good boy watched over the house.
The path from Devdhar village to Phularidhar had many rustic houses, some abandoned while some still occupied. They screamed of old age traditions with mud ceilings and stone walls, complementing the surreal village backdrop so beautifully.
It had started to rain now and i was a KM away from Roshanlal’s abode. His place is called CAMP 360 and it truly lives up to its name, standing on the topmost hillock with astounding views from every angle. I reached a track with a wired fence on either sides. Two towers and potato farms laid on my right while two huge buildings with red roofs, a private guest house stood on my left. The road was definitely less taken for it narrowed as I went further with grass and gravel. I spotted a cottage on the left while another one further ahead with a gazebo kind of look with red slanting roofs. I finally called Roshanlal and told him that I was outside his place but didn’t know which one of the cottages was his.
The one on the left is called Robins cottage owned by a French man. Roshanlal stood on a ladder painting one of the walls of his camp along with a volunteer , a student from Bangalore.
Roshanlal exclaimed rather excitedly ‘Mujhe pata tha aap aaoge” Welcome Ma’am”! He took me to the dining cabin which had huge glass windows, watching over the valley below. The space was done up so beautifully with DIY driftwood lamps and seating arrangements. He then got me and the student boy some tea. While catching up over that cup of chai, the young guy told me about these sites where in one can volunteer to work with homestays or lodges in the mountains and while you don’t get paid but your food and accommodation is taken care of. Why didn’t I know of such things while studying in college. Well i never even loved mountains then ( how i’d disown that part of me now).
This was his first trip to the mountains ever…in fact first to the North India. He belonged to Kerala and was pursuing his bachelors in Bangalore. I asked him about Bir since the take off point 360 was just a stone’s throw away and he revealed some rather startling facts about paragliding. Or probably it was startling for me for I didn’t really know much about the sport. The longest flight ever made from Bir Billing was 253 kms by a guy called Deby Choudhary.
Later that afternoon, i moved to my cosy cabin with undisturbed views all around me. The weather deteriorated and the winds rattled the windows so bad that i thought i would fly away with the wooden walls. The clouds engulfed the camp and i saw nothing and heard only thunderstorms. The fact that there were glass windows all around made me feel like i was sitting in the open, vulnerable to the wrath of the mountain showers. Fast forward by an hour or two, the clouds started to lift up and my room windows gifted me the best views ever. I ran out like an excited child.
Didi sat in the kitchen asking me to join her for tea. Their sons were back from school which was 6 kms away, and while the elder one sat around the bukhari, the younger one slept like a log under a layer of blankets. Moving closer to bukhari, i sat down next to the young boy trying to break the ice. ‘So how long does it take to hike up from your school’? He quipped ‘Half an hour” I exclaimed ‘ Means two hours for me eh’! He giggled. And then the conversations overflowed itself. He told me how he wanted to join the army after 12th and that became the epicenter of our talks. He was thrilled to know that i’m from an army background. Later I asked Gauri Di if she would accompany me for a walk outside. She readily agreed and showed me around. We walked up to the 360degree paragliding take off point. There was a hike that went all the way up to Bir Billing but required a day or two.
Later that night while feasting on the yummiest Lingdu pickle, we sat down at the dining hall chatting up, Roshanlal revealing a side of him that I fell in love with. We happened to talk about how difficult it is to make people see and think beyond religion and caste in small villages like his. He so comfortably talked about how he told his mom that there was nothing wrong with his wife while she was on periods and that she too could go to temple or do the normal chores of the house, quite contrary to the belief of the village folks. He had a certain pride in his tone when he said ‘Meri wife mujh se zyaada ghoomi hai, Bombay bhi gayi hai mere dosto ke saath’! They made such an adorable couple, chopping veggies together and running their camp with equal responsibilities.
That night while sleeping in my moonlit cabin with blue mountains guarding me, i told myself ‘Good Decision Akanksha, glad i came here’! I had never done such a random trip before. Sitting in the roadways, peeping into my wallet and still not sure if I’d be able to pay for my tickets back home. But then what is life without risks. What are adventures made of? That day hiking up to an unknown village, staying with a family i never knew but making conversations like we were long lost buds, sleeping while watching the mountains change its colours and hiking back the next day to Jhatingri to board a bus with a spectacular sunrise over the snowy Dhauladhars, convinced me that best trips are made of no plans and countless uncertainties. For what are good stories made of?!
TRAVEL AND CAMP INFO
Phuladhar also called Phularidhar is a small hamlet on a mountaintop (8500ft) in Mandi district.
One needs to catch a bus from Mandi to Ghatasani or any bus that is Kangra or Palmpur bound. Ghatasani has a junction point where in if you go straight on the main highway, you’d be heading to Palampur whereas if you go on the right, you’d be traveling towards Barot Valley.
From Ghatasani, catch any bus that goes towards Barot. Get down at Jhatingri bus stop and take the track on the left side of the road that goes up, leaving behind the PWD guest house.
It’s a 5 to 6 kms hike up to Roshanlal’s camp called Camp 360 Fularidhar. It is located on the highest point and has a 360 degree view of the valley. The camp is very close to one of the take off points for Paragliding in Bir Billing.
One can do day hikes or even longer ones from the camp. There’s a long trek that goes up to Bir with spellbinding views to offer. It’s one of the rare treks, almost the entire way on the ridge, giving you a glimpse of two valleys at the same time ie Joginder Nagar and Barot Valley.
Roshan Lal’s camp offers good home cooked food, tents for camping and an indoor neat and clean common washroom and toilet. There is also a glass cabin room available for those who do not wish to camp.
Phuladhar has other stay options too but this one being on the topmost location offers the best views and solitude for people looking for peace and solitude. If you’re looking for a quiet getaway, this place is your haven.
Roshanlal’s Contact Details :97365.87471 and 76499.08848
Here is their websdite http://www.camp-360.in